Globally, an estimated 12.7 million people await a corneal transplant. Of these, 53% are without routine access to a domestic supply and are reliant on transnational activity (TNA) (importation) of corneal tissue (CT) for transplantation. Although CT TNA commenced in 1961, there has been no evaluation of its impact on import and export nations.
We wished to examine the impact of clinical and nonclinical CT TNA on export and import nations, with nonclinical aspects our primary focus, to help guide future practice. We conducted a review of the academic literature through various search engines. We prefix and place our review in the relevant historical practice and global context.
Despite commencement in 1961, we only located 14 studies (11 clinical and 3 nonclinical) pertaining to CT TNA. These were published between 1991 and 2018. Clinical papers reported death-to-preservation time, preservation-to-transplantation time, logistics, donor and recipient selection, and quality as relevant. Nonclinical studies identified emerging themes pertaining to financial, ethical, and sustainability aspects of TNA.
All aspects of CT TNA are grossly under-reported, resulting in our inability to effectively analyze the overall impact to export and import nations. The few clinical studies in our review concluded that despite endothelial cell loss and other risk factors, imported CT appears comparable with domestic CT and remains an option in the absence of domestic supply. Nonclinical aspects (eg, ethical, equitable, and economic) have also not been adequately addressed.